Desde Dentro de Cuba.

Distribuido por Cuba Free Press, Inc. -

October 29, 1998, Cuba Free Press.


CAMAGUEY - Although the Spanish dictionary of synomyms and antonyms from Sainz of Robles has 1,148 pages and lists 9,000 antonyms of verbs and substantives, you will find there few of certain street words that are heard here.

Not even the best specialists in philology and linguistics could interpret exactly the idiomatic discussions of people of all ages, but among the young people along the street you find the "generation of the future," as in language.

For example, here when you hear someone respond to somebody's greeting with, "here, fighting a peso," you at once know that the comment came from somebody who's trying to sell or trade something so as to fill some urgent need - which is another tale.

Instead of saying "here, earning a peso," the speaker takes on a sports term which suggests fighting, battling, competing, leading, contending, wrangling, struggling, etc.

Another confusing verb used here is "to rob," which has as one meaning to obtain something from somebody with some kind of threat, whereas the softer word less heard is more like "to acquire."

To acquire may have some synonyms such as to satisfy or solve a dire need and find something which may be virtually impossible to buy or even find. But to rob is more like to usurp, defraud, assault, sack, take or even attack, all of which, of course, are against the law. The Cubans live and die trying to acquire, so they use the harsher word.

Another example has to do with such things as cheap plastic wrist-watch bands or tiny screw drivers to repair spectacles or clippers to cut fingernails. These can't be found in the ordinary store for Cubans. And we no longer speak of repair parts for electric appliances - which sometimes may be purchased for "hard" money. Once the whole appliance outlives its warranty, there are no more repairs, even though it needs only a tiny part.

Here enters the word "partner," a correct word once used for someone who works for a company or factory or shop to help the clients. No more. Now, the word means anybody who can "rob," i.e., acquire or solve some great need by whatever method that may work, wherever, whenever.

Another phrase that's common is "move it" or "I'm going to get a move on," heard often among salesmen. Here it does not mean that they are going to set about calmly to sell their wares but rather that they have acquired some product of doubtful origin that they want to get rid of in great haste.

It further means that they will rush to find somebody who needs the item and the result will be a great deal of hard bargaining.

Here indeed it is appropriate to say, as every Friday evening Professor Manuel Calviño says on Cuban television, "Vale la pena!" (It's worth the effort!)

Another Cuban expression is found in the words "I'm parted," which does not mean to be in two parts or to have some limb missing but to be hungry, something that in Cuba is usually not necessary to say with words.

The list of words and phrases could go on interminably, although difficult to convey in another language, but in all parts of the world you find the street languages and in our case they become somewhat more dramatic because of the harshness of surviving.

Perhaps Don Quixote himself would lower his lance with shame at the way the words are ground out in our "mills." In his time, his author, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, noted that if in a battle a man lost use of a hand, it would be said that he was "armless like Lepanto." In these days, if Cervantes were to pass through here, perhaps as a tourist, he might well suffer an irreparable trauma, possibly fatal, at the sights and sounds.

Guillermo Álvarez, Cuba Free Press.

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